Speaking of the 'Way', I remember that Confucius said, "Knowing the Way in the morning, I can die without regrets in the evening." He said that if you heard about the true Way and understood its meaning in the morning, then even if you died that very evening, you would not feel regretful; you would not have wasted this life because you understood the Way. On this point, Confucianism and Buddhism are equal. At the highest level of cultivation, both are the same.
Buddhism offers people certain consolation, saying that, "If you don't receive good retributions from good deeds in this life, you will receive them in future lives." In Confucianism, however, you rely completely on yourself. Even though there is no hope of a better destiny in the future, you still have to have the attitude that, "When the Way prevails, my face is no longer gloomy." These are the ideas and sentiments that Tao Yuanming conveys in this poem. Although it is a very short poem, it contains many of Tao Yuanming's life experiences and his philosophy of life, as well as being rich in the traditional ideas and culture of ancient China. Let us conclude here for today.
Last time we finished discussing the second poem in the series "On Drinking." In discussing poems, we should not only discuss their content, sentiment, and philosophy, but also analyze them from literary perspective to see if they are good poems and what makes them good. Before we began discussing Tao Yuanming's poems, I mentioned that his poems were very rich in ideas. In expressing those ideas, he not only conveyed the principles, but did so in a very tasteful and interesting way.
First of all, he integrated those ideas and principles with actual experiences and feelings from his life. Secondly, he made skillful use of imagery and metaphors in his poems. In addition, there is another reason why the second poem is excellent.
Last time, we mentioned that the line: "It is said that accumulated good brings a reward" conveyed an idea derived from the "Biographical Sketch of Boyi" in Sima Qian's Historical Records. The "Biographical Sketch of Boyi" is an outstanding and noteworthy article in the Historical Records. It is different from the other biographies. One very simple reason is that for most biographies, Sima Qian would first record the person's life story and then add his own comments, starting with the phrase, "The Imperial Historian says..." Imperial Historian was the title of Sima Qian's position, which in the Han Dynasty carried the responsibility of recording history.
Throughout the Historical Records, the biography proper is separated from the comments in all the biographical sketches except for that of Boyi, in which Sima Qian did not use the phrase "The Imperial Historian says" to separate the life story from his comments. Instead, he interspersed his comments right within the biography. He alternated between biographical narration and commentary, blending the two like water and milk.
He not only merged the narrative and commentary, but also included questions and exclamations as well. The "Biographical Sketch of Boyi" has many questions expressing his doubts. He first alludes to the ancient proverb: "Heaven shows no partiality, yet always aids the virtuous, " and then he presents many examples, some of good men who suffered unfortunate endings, and some of bad guys who lived out their lives in comfort. Then he concludes with a question: If that is divine justice, is it reliable or not? If there actually is something called divine justice, does it always bless good people? Is it real or not?
In presenting the case, he first asks a question, then brings up an example, which is Boyi. He said that a man like Boyi was considered a good man, wasn't he?—Boyi was a good man, was he not? But why did both Boyi and his brother Shuqi starve to death at Shouyang Mountain?
A characteristic feature of the "Biographical Sketch of Boyi" in the Historical Records is that it combines narrative and commentary, questions and exclamations. Sima Qian's Historical Records is not merely a book of history, but also excellent literature. He not only recorded the stories of people's lives, but also added his own feelings and comments as well.
Tao Yuanming not only alludes to the ideas and feelings in the "Biographical Sketch of Boyi," but it is very touching to see that he also absorbs Sima Qian's narrative skill. How does he do it?
To be continued